Fast Lenses Still Matter

Yo-Yo Ma is a great conversationist, but that's what one should expect from a world-class listener. Nikon D7100; Nikon 85mm f/1.4

Yo-Yo Ma is a great conversationist, as one might expect from a world-class listener. Nikon D7100; Nikon 85mm f/1.4

Despite camera ISO range improvements and electronic flash diffusion innovations, a fast lens is still a joy to employ in a dimly lit room. Shooting a reception for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble after its concert at Santa Barbara’s Granada Theater was mostly a “run-and-gun” scenario, grabbing flash shots as quickly as possible during a meet-and-greet. Even when attendees posed for photos, they posed very briefly, because Yo-Yo Ma is a friendly and gregarious man who loves chatting with his friends and fans. His energy is contagious.

An on-camera flash picture that looks like an on-camera flash picture with a touch of diffusion. Gets the job done but does not move me. NIkon D610; Nikon SB-800 speed light with Sto-Fen Omni Bounce diffuser; Nikon 24-70 f/2.8

An on-camera flash picture that looks like an on-camera flash picture with a touch of diffusion. Gets the job done but does not move me. NIkon D610; Nikon SB-800 speed light with Sto-Fen Omni Bounce diffuser; Nikon 24-70 f/2.8

I’ve been experimenting with flash diffusers in this venue for months, and have yet to find the quality of light or portability I need, what with the high, colorful ceilings, reflective surfaces, and tight crowds. The flash images in this post were made with a Sto-Fen Omni Bounce on an SB-800 speedlight. Sometimes I use a Gary Fong Lightsphere, but the size of this crowd in tight quarters pushed me toward the smaller Omni Bounce. I got pretty good flash pictures that look like pretty good flash pictures. For a guy who loves studio lighting, on-camera flash is a painful compromise, so I keep experimenting.

The challenges of on-camera flash are exaggerated in these "run-and-gun" scenarios, but not everything can be lit under studio conditions. Nikon D610; Nikon SB-800 with Sto-Fen Omni Bounce; Nikon 24-70 f/2.8

The dimly lit room turns the on-camera flash into the key light, rather than the fill light I prefer. The challenges of on-camera flash are exaggerated in these “run-and-gun” scenarios, but not everything can be lit under studio conditions. Nikon D610; Nikon SB-800 with Sto-Fen Omni Bounce; Nikon 24-70 f/2.8

After the list of key shots was completed, I followed Yo-Yo Ma around the dimly lit room while he chatted up the attendees. I was tired of firing a flash at his face (and I suspect he was tired of that too), so I turned to my backup camera, a D7100 with an 85mm f/1.4 lens. And I made my favorite images of the evening. As a studio lighting enthusiast, I continue to marvel at how this lens helps me rediscover available light photography.

ISO 6400 and f/1.4 We photographers live in wondrous times. Nikon D7100; Nikon 85mm f/1.4

The ambient light was dim, but much softer than even a bounced flash. ISO 6400 and f/1.4. We photographers live in wondrous times. Nikon D7100; Nikon 85mm f/1.4

PS: UCSB Arts & Lectures brings the world’s greatest talent to Santa Barbara. I love them.